Cirak Tesfazgi appeared to have set up camp around midnight Monday morning in a downtown Santa Rosa doorway alcove.
Although he often slept on the street, Tesfazgi, 32, was not without a home. He had a key to his mother’s apartment above Sam’s Market on Humboldt Street in the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood, less than a mile away.
A college graduate with a love of poetry, for years a fixture at downtown cafes, a first-generation American whose wide smile was readily recognized by strangers, Tesfazgi suffered more than 50 stab wounds early Monday morning, likely caused by a bent chef’s knife police found on the ground near the alcove at 418 Riley St.
Police released new details Tuesday of the predawn killing after an autopsy revealed the extent of the vicious attack that occurred sometime around or after 12 a.m. Monday.
The unknown killer remained at large Tuesday.
“We have not found anything to indicate he had enemies, or was participating in any type of activity that would create enemies,” Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Josh Ludtke said.
Ludtke said detectives hoped the knife would help lead them to the killer. Investigators suspect the knife was newly bought or stolen, and they were canvassing downtown businesses for any recent thefts.
Tesfazgi was well known to officers who patrol downtown, Ludtke said, merely because he was always there. He also was recognized by people in the homeless community but wasn’t known to associate with them.
Three of Santa Rosa’s four homicides this year have been transients. It’s a stark number in a city that has averaged less than four homicides annually over the past 10 years.
The transients killed this year shared little in common apart from spending nights sleeping outdoors.
Officials have estimated 2,000 people are living without permanent shelter in Sonoma County — with another 1,000 in temporary shelters — a homelessness rate higher than San Francisco and three times the national average of about 18 homeless people per 10,000 people in the general population.
Tesfazgi was one of six siblings and a member of Sonoma County’s tight-knit Eritrean community. His mother, Elsa Tewoldeberhan, said her son was an excellent student, a graduate of Santa Rosa High School and Sonoma State University.
“He was always an A student, he was never in trouble, his whole life,” Tewoldeberhan said.
Tesfazgi’s death was keenly felt not only by his family, but also by former classmates and throughout the city, even by those who didn’t know him but recognized the upbeat man with a bounce in his step, the man who peddled his poetry for a cup of coffee or cash.
Staff at the Sonoma County Library on Tuesday published a photo to social media of Tesfazgi’s three self-published poetry chapbooks, or pamphlets, that are part of the library’s Local Author’s collection.
Tewoldeberhan said she saw her son sometimes every day, sometimes just a couple times a week. She saw him last week, perhaps Tuesday, when he came home to eat, shower and rest. She went downtown on Saturday to try to find him at the library and coffee shops where he was often seen, but he wasn’t there.
She said after her son graduated college, he appeared to develop depression or some related affliction that she could not identify. Tewoldeberhan said she took her son to a counselor but he didn’t want help.